FROM SAIL TO STEAM
RECOLLECTIONS OF NAVAL LIFE
CAPT. A. T. MAHAN
AUTHOR OF "THE INFLUENCE OF SEA-POWER UPON HISTORY" ETC.
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON MCMVII
Copyright, 1906, 1907, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All rights reserved. Published October, 1907.
INTRODUCING MYSELF ix
I. NAVAL CONDITIONS BEFORE THE WAR OF SECESSION—THE OFFICERS AND SEAMEN 3
II. NAVAL CONDITIONS BEFORE THE WAR OF SECESSION—THE VESSELS 25
III. THE NAVAL ACADEMY IN ITS RELATION TO THE NAVY AT LARGE 45
IV. THE NAVAL ACADEMY IN ITS INTERIOR WORKINGS—PRACTICE CRUISES 70
V. MY FIRST CRUISE AFTER GRADUATION—NAUTICAL CHARACTERS 103
VI. MY FIRST CRUISE AFTER GRADUATION—NAUTICAL SCENES AND SCENERY—THE APPROACH OF DISUNION 127
VII. INCIDENTS OF WAR AND BLOCKADE SERVICE 156
VIII. INCIDENTS OF WAR AND BLOCKADE SERVICE—CONTINUED 179
IX. A ROUNDABOUT ROAD TO CHINA 196
X. CHINA AND JAPAN 229
XI. THE TURNING OF A LONG LANE—HISTORICAL, NAVAL, AND PERSONAL 266
XII. EXPERIENCES OF AUTHORSHIP 302
When I was a boy, some years before I obtained my appointment in the navy, I spent many of those happy hours that only childhood knows poring over the back numbers of a British service periodical, which began its career in 1828, with the title Colburn's United Service Magazine; under which name, save and except the Colburn, it still survives. Besides weightier matters, its early issues abounded in reminiscences by naval officers, then yet in the prime of life, who had served through the great Napoleonic wars. More delightful still, it had numerous nautical stories, based probably on facts, serials under such entrancing titles as "Leaves from my Log Book," by Flexible Grommet, Passed Midshipman; a pen-name, the nautical felicity of which will be best appreciated by one who has had the misfortune to handle a grommet which was not flexible. Then there was "The Order Book," by Jonathan Oldjunk; an epithet so suggestive of the waste-heap, even to a landsman's ears, that one marvels a man ever took it unto himself, especially in that decline of life when we are more sensitive on the subject of bodily disabilities than once we were. Old junk, however, can yet be "worked up," as the sea expression goes, into other uses, and that perhaps was what Mr. Oldjunk meant; his early adventures as a young "luff" were, for economical reasons, worked up into their present literary shape, with the addition of a certain amount of extraneous matter—love-making, and the like. Indeed, so far from uselessness, that veteran seaman and rigid economist, the Earl of St. Vincent, when First Lord of the Admiralty, had given to a specific form of old junk—viz., "shakings"—the honors of a special order, for the preservation thereof, the which forms the staple of a comical anecdote in Basil Hall's Fragments of Voyages and Travels; itself a superior example of the instructive "recollections," of less literary merit, which but for Colburn's would have perished.
Any one who has attempted to write history knows what queer nuggets of useful information lie hidden away in such papers; how they often help to reconstruct an incident, or determine a mooted point. If the Greeks, after the Peloponnesian war, had had a Colburn's, we should have a more certain, if not a perfect, clew to the reconstruction of the trireme; and probably even could deduce with some accuracy the daily routine, the several duties, and hear the professional jokes and squabbles, of their officers and crews. The serious people who write history can never fill the place of the gossips, who pour out an unpremeditated mixture of intimate knowledge and idle trash.
Trash? Upon the whole is not the trash the truest history? perhaps not the most valuable, but the most real? If you want contemporary color, contemporary atmosphere, you must seek it among the impressions which can be obtained only from those who have lived a life amid particular surroundings, which they breathe and which colors them—dyes them in the wool. However skilless, they cannot help reproducing, any more than water poured from an old ink-bottle can help coming out more or less black; although, if sufficiently pretentious, they can monstrously caricature, especially if they begin with the modest time-worn admission that they are more familiar with the marling-spike than with the pen. But even the caricature born of pretentiousness will not prevent the unpremeditated betrayal of conditions, facts, and incidents, which help reconstruct the milieu; how much more, then, the unaffected simplicity of the born story-teller. I do not know how Froissart ranks as an authority with historians. I have not read him for years; and my recollections are chiefly those of childhood, with all the remoteness and all the vividness which memory preserves from early impressions. I think I now might find him wearisome; not so in boyhood. He was to me then, and seems to me now, a glorified Flexible Grommet or Jonathan Oldjunk; ranking, as to them, as Boswell does towards the common people of biography. That there are many solid chunks of useful information to be dug out of him I am sure; that his stories are all true, I have no desire to question; but what among it all is so instructive, so entertaining, as the point of view of himself, his heroes, and his colloquists—the particular contemporary modification of universal human nature in which he lived, and moved, and had his being?
If such a man has the genius of his business, as had Froissart and Boswell, he excels in proportion to his unconsciousness of the fact; his colors run truer. For lesser gobblers, who have not genius, the best way to lose consciousness is just to IT themselves go; if they endeavor to paint artistically the muddle will be worse. To such the proverb of the cobbler and his last is of perennial warning. As a barber once sagely remarked to me, "You can't trim a beard well, unless you're born to it." It is possible in some degree to imitate Froissart and Boswell in that marvellous diligence to accumulate material which was common to them both; but, when gathered, how impossible it is to work up that old junk into permanent engrossing interest let those answer who have grappled with ancient chronicles, or with many biographies. So, with a circumlocution which probably convicts me in advance of decisive deficiency as a narrator, I let myself go. I have no model, unless it be the old man sitting in the sun on a summer's day, bringing forth out of his memories things new and old—mostly old.
A. T. MAHAN.
While extracts from the following pages were appearing in Harper's Magazine, I received a letter from a reader hoping that I would say something about myself before entering the navy. This had been outside my purpose, which was chiefly to narrate what had passed around me that I thought interesting; but it seems possibly fit to establish in a few words my antecedents by heredity and environment.
I was born September 27, 1840, within the boundaries of the State of New York, but not upon its territory; the place, West Point on the Hudson River, having been ceded to the General Government for the purposes of the Military Academy, at which my father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was then Professor of Engineering, as well Civil as Military. He himself was of pure Irish blood, his father and mother, already married, having emigrated together from the old country early in the last century; but he was also American by birthright, having been born in April, 1802, very soon after the arrival of his parents in the city of New York. There also he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, in the parish of St. Peter's, the church building of which now stands far down town, in Barclay Street. It is not, I believe, the same that existed in 1802.
Very soon afterwards, before he reached an age to remember, his parents removed to Norfolk, Virginia, where he grew up and formed his earliest associations. As is usual, these colored his whole life; he was always a Virginian in attachment and preference. In the days of crisis he remained firm to the Union, by conviction and affection; but he broke no friendships, and to the end there continued in him that surest positive indication of local fondness, admiration for the women of what was to him his native land. In beauty, in manner, and in charm, they surpassed. "Your mother is Northern," he once said to me, "and very few can approach her; but still, in the general, none compare for me with the Southern woman." The same causes, early association, gave him a very pronounced dislike to England; for he could remember the War of 1812, and had experienced the embittered feeling which was probably nowhere fiercer than around the shores of the Chesapeake, the scene of the most wide-spread devastation inflicted, partly from motives of policy, partly as measures of retaliation. Spending afterwards three or four years of early manhood in France, he there imbibed a warm liking for the people, among whom he contracted several intimacies. He there knew personally Lafayette and his family; receiving from them the hospitality which the Marquis' service in the War of Independence, and his then recent ovation during his tour of the United States in 1825, prompted him to extend to Americans. This communication with a man who could tell, and did tell him, intimate stories of intercourse with Washington doubtless emphasized my father's patriotic prejudices as well as his patriotism. When he revisited France, in 1856, he found many former friends still alive, and when I myself went there for the first time, in 1870, he asked me too to hunt them up; but they had all then disappeared. His fondness for the French doubtless accentuated his repugnance to the English, at that time still their traditional enemy. The combination of Irish and French prepossession could scarcely have resulted otherwise; and thus was evolved an atmosphere in which I was brought up, not only passively absorbing, but to a certain degree actively impressed with love for France and the Southern section of the United States, while learning to look askance upon England and abolitionists. The experiences of life, together with subsequent reading and reflection, modified and in the end entirely overcame these early prepossessions.
My father was for over forty years professor at West Point, of which he had been a graduate. In short, the Academy was his life, and he there earned what I think I am modest in calling a distinguished reputation. The best proof of this perhaps is that at even so early a date in our national history as his graduation from the Academy, in 1824, he was thought an officer of such promise as to make it expedient to send him to France for the higher military education in which the country of Napoleon and his marshals then stood pre-eminent. From 1820, when he entered the Academy as a pupil, to his death in 1871, he was detached from it only these three or four years. Yet this determination of his life's work proceeded from a mere accident, scarcely more than a boy's fancy. He had begun the study of medicine, under Dr. Archer, of Richmond; but he had a very strong wish to learn drawing. In those primitive days the opportunity of instruction was wanting where he lived; and hearing that it was taught at the Military Academy he set to work for an appointment, not from inclination to the calling of a soldier, but as a means to this particular end. It is rather singular that he should have had no bias towards the profession of arms; for although he drifted almost from the first into the civil branch, as a teacher and then professor, I have never known a man of more strict and lofty military ideas. The spirit of the profession was strong in him, though he cared little for its pride, pomp, and circumstance. I believe that in this observation others who knew him well agreed with me.
The work of a teacher, however important and absorbing in itself, does not usually offer much of interest to readers. My father, by the personal contact of teacher and taught, knew almost every one of the distinguished generals who fought in the War of Secession, on either the Union or the Confederate side. With scarcely an exception, they had been his pupils; but his own life was uneventful. He married, in 1839, Mary Helena Okill, of New York City. My mother's father was English, her mother an American, but with a strong strain of French blood; her maiden name, Mary Jay, being that of a Huguenot family which had left France under Louis XIV. By the time of her birth, in 1786, a good deal of American admixture had doubtless qualified the original French; but I remember her well, and though she lived to be seventy-three, she had up to the last a vivacity and keen enjoyment of life, more French than American, reflected from quick black eyes, which fairly danced with animation through her interest in her surroundings.
From my derivation, therefore, I am a pretty fair illustration of the mix-up of bloods which seems destined to bring forth some new and yet undecipherable combination on the North American continent. One-half Irish, one-fourth English, and a good deal more than "a trace" of French, would appear to be the showing of a quantitative analysis. Yet, as far as I understand my personality, I think to see in the result the predominance which the English strain has usually asserted for itself over others. I have none of the gregariousness of either the French or Irish; and while I have no difficulty in entering into civil conversation with a stranger who addresses me, I rarely begin, having, upon the whole, a preference for an introduction. This is not perverseness, but lack of facility; and I believe Froissart noted something of the same in the Englishmen of five hundred years ago. I have, too, an abhorrence of public speaking, and a desire to slip unobserved into a back seat wherever I am, which amount to a mania; but I am bound to admit I get both these dispositions from my father, whose Irishry was undiluted by foreign admixture.
In my boyhood, till I was nearly ten, West Point was a very sequestered place. It was accessible only by steam-boats; and during great part of the winter months not by them, the Hudson being frozen over most of the season as far as ten to twenty miles lower down. The railroad was not running before 1848, and then it followed the east bank of the river. One of my early recollections is of begging off from school one day, long enough to go to a part of the post distant from our house, whence I caught my first sight of a train of cars on the opposite shore. Another recollection is of the return of a company of engineer soldiers from the War with Mexico. The detachment was drawn up for inspection where we boys could see it. One of the men had grown a full beard, a sight to me then as novel as the railroad, and I announced it at home as a most interesting fact. I had as yet seen only clean-shaven faces. Among my other recollections of childhood are, as superintendent of the Academy, Colonel Robert E. Lee, afterwards the great Confederate leader; and McClellan, then a junior engineer officer.
As my boyhood advanced the abolition movement was gaining strength, to the great disapprobation and dismay of my father, with his strong Southern and Union sympathies. I remember that when Uncle Tom's Cabin came out, in my twelfth year, the master of the school I attended gave me a copy; being himself, I presume, one of the rising party adverse to slavery. My father took it out of my hands, and I came to regard it much as I would a bottle labelled "Poison." In consequence I never read it in the days of its vogue, and I have to admit that since then, in mature years, I have not been able to continue it after beginning. The same motives, in great part, led to my being sent to a boarding-school in Maryland, near Hagerstown, which drew its pupils very largely, though not exclusively, from the South. The environment would be upon the whole Southern. I remained there, however, only two years, my father becoming dissatisfied with my progress in mathematics. In 1854, therefore, I matriculated as a freshman at Columbia College in the city of New York, where I remained till I went to the Naval Academy.
My entrance into the navy was greatly against my father's wish. I do not remember all his arguments, but he told me he thought me much less fit for a military than for a civil profession, having watched me carefully. I think myself now that he was right; for, though I have no cause to complain of unsuccess, I believe I should have done better elsewhere. While thus more than dissenting from my choice, he held that a child should not be peremptorily thwarted in his scheme of life. Consequently, while he would not actively help me in the doubtful undertaking of obtaining an appointment, which depended then as now upon the representative from the congressional district, he gave me the means to go to Washington, and also two or three letters to personal friends; among them Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, and James Watson Webb, a prominent character in New York journalism and in politics, both state and national.
Thus equipped, I started for Washington on the first day of 1856, being then three months over fifteen. As I think now of my age, and more than usual diffidence, and of my omission, to win the favor of a politician who had constituents to reward, whereas to all my family practical politics were as foreign as Sanskrit, I know not whether the situation were more comical or pathetic. On the way I foregathered with a Southern lad, some three years my senior, returning home from England, where he had been at school. He beguiled the time by stories of his experiences, to me passing strange; and I remember, in crossing the Susquehanna, which was then by ferry-boat, looking at the fields of ice fragments, I said it would be unpleasant to fall in. "I would sooner have a knife stuck into me," he replied. I wonder what became of him, for I never knew his name. Of course he entered the Confederate army; but what besides?
I remember my week's stay in Washington much as I suppose a man overboard remembers the incidents of that experience. Memory is an odd helpmate; why some circumstances take hold and others not is "one of those things no fellow can find out." I saw the member of Congress, who I find by reference to have been Ambrose S. Murray, representative of the district within which West Point lay. He received me kindly, but with the reserve characteristic of most interviews where one party desires a favor for which he has nothing in exchange to offer. I think, however, that Mr. Webb, with whom and his family I breakfasted one day, said some good words for me. Jefferson Davis was a graduate of the Military Academy, of 1827; and although his term there had overlapped my father's by only one year, his interest in everything pertaining to the army had maintained between them an acquaintance approaching intimacy. He therefore was very cordial to the boy before him, and took me round to the office of the then Secretary of the Navy, Mr. James C. Dobbin, of North Carolina; just why I do not understand yet, as the Secretary could not influence my immediate object. Perhaps he felt the need of a friendly chat; for I remember that, after presenting me, the two sat down and discussed the President's Message, of which Davis expressed a warm approval. This being the time of the protracted contest over the Speakership, which ended in the election of Banks, I suppose the colleagues were talking about a document which was then ready, and familiar to them, but which was not actually sent to Congress until it organized, some weeks after this interview. Probably their conversation was the aftermath of a cabinet meeting.
I returned home with fairly sanguine hopes, which on the journey received a douche of cold water from an old gentleman, a distant connection of my family, to visit whom I stopped a few hours in Philadelphia. He asked about my chance of the appointment; and being told that it seemed good, he rejoined, "Well, I hope you won't get it. I have known many naval officers, captains and lieutenants, in different parts of the world"—for his time, he was then nearly eighty, he had travelled extensively—"I have talked much with them, and know that it is a profession with little prospect." Then he quoted Dr. Johnson: "No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail with the chance of being drowned"; and further to overwhelm me, he clinched the saying by a comment of his own. "In a ship of war you run the risk of being killed as well as that of being drowned." The interview left me a perplexed but not a wiser lad.
Late in the ensuing spring Mr. Murray wrote me that he would nominate me for the appointment. Just what determined him in my favor I do not certainly know; but, as I remember, Mr. Davis had authorized me to say to him that, if the place were given me, he would use his own influence with President Pierce to obtain for a nominee from his district a presidential appointment to the Military Academy. Mr. Murray replied that such a proposition was very acceptable to him, because the tendency among his constituents was much more to the army than to the navy. At that day, besides one cadet at West Point for each congressional district, which was in the gift of the representative, the law permitted the President a certain number of annual appointments, called "At Large"; the object being to provide for sons of military and naval officers, whose lack of political influence made it difficult otherwise to enter the school. This presidential privilege has since been extended to the Naval Academy, but had not then. The proposed interchange in my case, therefore, would be practically to give an officer's son an appointment at large in the navy. Whether this arrangement was actually carried out, I have never known nor inquired; but it has pleased me to believe, as I do, that I owed my entrance to the United States navy to the interposition of the first and only President of the Southern Confederacy, whose influence with Mr. Pierce is a matter of history.
I entered the Naval Academy, as an "acting midshipman," September 30, 1856.
FROM SAIL TO STEAM
RECOLLECTIONS OF NAVAL LIFE
NAVAL CONDITIONS BEFORE THE WAR OF SECESSION
THE OFFICERS AND SEAMEN
Naval officers who began their career in the fifties of the past century, as I did, and who survive till now, as very many do, have been observant, if inconspicuous, witnesses of one of the most rapid and revolutionary changes that naval science and warfare have ever undergone. It has been aptly said that a naval captain who fought the Invincible Armada would have been more at home in the typical war-ship of 1840, than the average captain of 1840 would have been in the advanced types of the American Civil War. The twenty years here chosen for comparison cover the middle period of the century which has but recently expired. Since that time progress has gone on in accelerating ratio; and if the consequent changes have been less radical in kind, they have been more extensive in scope. It is interesting to observe that within the same two decades, in 1854, occurred the formal visit of Commodore Perry to Japan, and the negotiations of the treaty bringing her fairly within the movement of Western civilization; starting her upon the path which has resulted in the most striking illustration yet given of the powers of modern naval instruments, ships and weapons, diligently developed and elaborated during the period that has since elapsed.
When I received my appointment to the Naval School at Annapolis, in the early part of the year 1856, the United States navy was under the influence of one of those spasmodic awakenings which, so far as action is concerned, have been the chief characteristic of American statesmanship in the matter of naval policy up to twenty years ago. Since then there has been a more continuous practical recognition of the necessity for a sustained and consistent development of naval power. This wholesome change has been coincident with, and doubtless largely due to, a change in appreciation of the importance of naval power in the realm of international relations, which, within the same period, has passed over the world at large. The United States of America began its career under the Constitution of 1789 with no navy; but in 1794 the intolerable outrages of the Barbary pirates, and the humiliation of having to depend upon the armed ships of Portugal for the protection of American trade, aroused Congress to vote the building of a half-dozen frigates, with the provision, however, that the building should stop if an arrangement with Algiers were reached. Not till 1798 was the navy separated from the War Department. The President at that date, John Adams, was, through his New England origin, in profound sympathy with all naval questions; and, while minister to Great Britain, in 1785, had had continual opportunity to observe the beneficial effect of maritime activity and naval power upon that kingdom. He had also bitter experience of the insolence of its government towards our interests, based upon its conscious control of the sea. He thus came into office strongly biassed towards naval development. To the impulse given by him contributed also the outrageous course towards our commerce initiated by the French Directory, after Bonaparte's astounding campaigns in Italy had struck down all opposition to France save that of the mistress of the seas. The nation, as represented in Congress, woke up, rubbed, its eyes, and built a small number of vessels which did exemplary service in the subsequent quasi war with France. Provision was made for a further increase; and it is not too much to say that this beginning, if maintained, might have averted the War of 1812. But within four years revulsion came. Adams gave place to Jefferson and Madison, the leaders of a party which frankly and avowedly rejected a navy as an element of national strength, and saw in it only a menace to liberty. Save for the irrepressible marauding of the Barbary corsairs, and the impressment of our seamen by British ships-of-war, the remnant of Adams' ships would not improbably have been swept out of existence. This result was feared by naval officers of the day; and with what good reason is shown by the fact that, within six months of the declaration of the War in 1812, and when the party in control was determined that war there should be, a proposition to increase the navy received but lukewarm support from the administration, and was voted down in Congress. The government, awed by the overwhelming numbers of the British fleet, proposed to save its vessels by keeping them at home; just as a few years before it had undertaken to save its commerce by forbidding its merchant-ships to go to sea.
Such policy with regard to a military service means to it not sleep, but death. The urgent remonstrances of three or four naval captains obtained a change of plan; and at the end of the year the President admitted that, for the very reasons advanced by them, the activity of a small squadron, skilfully directed, had insured the safe return of much the most part of our exposed merchant-shipping. It is not, however, such broad general results of sagacious management that bring conviction to nations and arouse them to action. Professionally, the cruise of Rodgers's squadron, unsuccessful in outward seeming, was a much more significant event, and much more productive, than the capture of the Guerriere by the Constitution; but it was this which woke up the people. The other probably would not have turned a vote in either House. As a military exploit the frigate victory was exaggerated, and not unnaturally; but no words can exaggerate its influence upon the future of the American navy. Here was something that men could see and understand, even though they might not correctly appreciate. Coinciding as the tidings did with the mortification of Hull's surrender at Detroit, they came at a moment which was truly psychological. Bowed down with shame at reverse where only triumph had been anticipated, the exultation over victory where disaster had been more naturally awaited produced a wild reaction. The effect was decisive. Inefficient and dilatory as was much of the subsequent administration of the navy, there was never any further question of its continuance. And yet, from the ship which thus played the most determining part in the history of her service, it has been proposed to take her name, and give it to another, of newer construction; as though with the name could go also the association. Could any other Victory be Nelson's Victory to Great Britain? Can calling a man George Washington help to perpetuate the services of the one Washington? The last much-vaunted addition to the British fleet, the Dreadnaught, bears a family name extending back over two centuries, or more. She is one of a series reasonably perpetuated, ship after ship, as son after sire; a line of succession honored in the traditions of the nation. So there were Victorys, before the one whose revered hulk still maintains a hallowed association; but her individual connection with one event has set her apart. The name might be transferred, but with it the association cannot be transmitted. But not even the Victory, with all her clinging memories, did for the British navy what the Constitution did for the American.
There was thenceforward no longer any question about votes for the navy. Ships of the line, frigates, and sloops, were ordered to be built, and the impulse thus received never wholly died out. Still, as with all motives which in origin are emotional rather than reasoned, there was lack of staying power. As the enthusiasm of the moment languished, there came languor of growth; or, more properly, of development. Continuance became routine in character, tending to reproduce contentedly the old types consecrated by the War of 1812. There was little conscious recognition of national exigencies, stimulating a demand that the navy, in types and numbers, should be kept abreast of the times. In most pursuits of life American intelligence has been persistently apt and quick in search of improvement; but, while such characteristics have not been absent from the naval service, they have been confined chiefly, and naturally, to the men engaged in the profession, and have lacked the outside support which immediate felt needs impart to movements in business or politics. Few men in civil life could have given an immediate reply to the question, Why do we need a navy? Besides, although the American people are aggressive, combative, even warlike, they are the reverse of military; out of sympathy with military tone and feeling. Consequently, the appearance of professional pride, the insistence upon the absolute necessity for professional training, which in the physician, lawyer, engineer, or other civil occupation is accepted as not only becoming, but conducive to uplifting the profession as a whole, is felt in the military man to be the obtrusion of an alien temperament, easily stigmatized as the arrogance of professional conceit and exclusiveness. The wise traditional jealousy of any invasion of the civil power by the military has no doubt played some part in this; but a healthy vigilance is one thing, and morbid distrust another. Morbid distrust and unreasoned prepossession were responsible for the feebleness of the navy in 1812, and these feelings long survived. An adverse atmosphere was created, with results unfortunate to the nation, so far as the navy was important to national welfare or national progress.
Indeed, between the day of my entrance into the service, fifty years ago, and the present, nowhere is change more notable than in the matter of atmosphere; of the national attitude towards the navy and comprehension of its office. Then it was accepted without much question as part of the necessary lumber that every adequately organized maritime state carried, along with the rest of a national establishment. Of what use it was, or might be, few cared much to inquire. There was not sufficient interest even to dispute the necessity of its existence; although, it is true, as late as 1875 an old-time Jeffersonian Democrat repeated to me with conviction the master's dictum, that the navy was a useless appendage; a statement which its work in the War of Secession, as well on the Confederate as on the Union side, might seem to have refuted sufficiently and with abundant illustration. To such doubters, before the war, there was always ready the routine reply that a navy protected commerce; and American shipping, then the second in the world, literally whitened every sea with its snowy cotton sails, a distinctive mark at that time of American merchant shipping. In my first long voyage, in 1859, from Philadelphia to Brazil, it was no rare occurrence to be becalmed in the doldrums in company with two or three of these beautiful semi-clipper vessels, their low black hulls contrasting vividly with the tall pyramids of dazzling canvas which rose above them. They needed no protection then, and none foresaw that within a decade, by the operations of a few small steam-cruisers, they would be swept from the seas, never to return. Everything was taken for granted, and not least that war was a barbarism of the past. From 1815 to 1850, the lifetime of a generation, international peace had prevailed substantially unbroken, despite numerous revolutionary movements internal to the states concerned; and it had been lightly assumed that these conditions would thenceforth continue, crowned as they had been by the great sacrament of peace, when the nations for the first time gathered under a common roof the fruits of their several industries in the World's Exposition of 1851. The shadows of disunion were indeed gathering over our own land, but for the most of us they carried with them no fear of war. American fight American? Never! Separation there might be, and with a common sorrow officers of both sections thought of it; but, brother shed the blood of brother? No! By 1859 the Crimean War had indeed intervened to shake these fond convictions; but, after all, rules have exceptions, and in the succeeding peace the British government, consistent with the prepossessions derived from the propaganda of Cobden, yielded perfectly gratuitously the principle that an enemy's commerce might be freely transported under a neutral flag, thereby wrenching away prematurely one of the prongs of Neptune's trident. Surely we were on the road to universal peace.
San Francisco before and after its recent earthquake—at this moment of writing ten days ago—scarcely presented a greater contrast of experience than that my day has known; and the political condition and balance of the world now is as different from that of the period of which I have been writing as the new city will be from the old one it will replace at the Golden Gate. Of this universal change and displacement the most significant factor—at least in our Western civilization—has been the establishment of the German Empire, with its ensuing commercial, maritime, and naval development. To it certainly we owe the military impulse which has been transmitted everywhere to the forces of sea and land—an impulse for which, in my judgment, too great gratitude cannot be felt. It has braced and organized Western civilization for an ordeal as yet dimly perceived. But between 1850 and 1860 long desuetude of war, and confident reliance upon the commercial progress which freedom of trade had brought in its train, especially to Great Britain, had induced the prevalent feeling that to-morrow would be as to-day, and much more abundant. This was too consonant to national temperament not to pervade America also; and it was promoted by a distance from Europe and her complications much greater than now exists, and by the consistent determination not to be implicated in her concerns. All these factors went to constitute the atmosphere of indifference to military affairs in general; and particularly to those external interests of which a navy is the outward and visible sign and champion.
I do not think there is error or exaggeration in this picture of the "environment" of the navy in popular appreciation at the time I entered. Under such conditions, which had obtained substantially since soon after the War of 1812, and which long disastrously affected even Great Britain, with all her proud naval traditions and maritime and colonial interests, a military service cannot thrive. Indifference and neglect tell on most individuals, and on all professions. The saving clauses were the high sense of duty and of professional integrity, which from first to last I have never known wanting in the service; while the beauty of the ships themselves, quick as a docile and intelligent animal to respond to the master's call, inspired affection and intensified professional enthusiasm. The exercises of sails and spars, under the varying exigencies of service, bewildering as they may have seemed to the uninitiated, to the appreciative possessed fascination, and were their own sufficient reward for the care lavished upon them. In their mute yet exact response was some compensation for external neglect; they were, so to say, the testimony of a good conscience; the assurance of professional merit, and of work well done, if scantily recognized. Poor and beloved sails and spars—la joie de la manoeuvre, to use the sympathetic phrase of a French officer of that day—gone ye are with that past of which I have been speaking, and of which ye were a goodly symbol; but like other symptoms of the times, had we listened aright, we should have heard the stern rebuke: Up and depart hence; this is not the place of your rest.
The result of all this had been a body of officers, and of men-of-war seamen, strong in professional sentiment, and admirably qualified in the main for the duties of a calling which in many of its leading characteristics was rapidly becoming obsolete. There was the spirit of youth, but the body of age. As a class, officers and men were well up in the use of such instruments as the country gave them; but the profession did not wield the corporate influence necessary to extort better instruments, and impotence to remedy produced acquiescence in, perhaps, more properly, submission to, an arrest of progress, the evils of which were clearly seen. Yet the salt was still there, nor had it lost its savor. The military professions are discouraged, even enjoined, against that combined independent action for the remedy of grievances which is the safeguard of civil liberty, but tends to sap the unquestioning obedience essential to unity of action under a single will—at once the virtue and the menace of a standing army. Naval officers had neither the privilege nor the habits which would promote united effort for betterment; but when individuals among them are found, like Farragut, Dupont, Porter, Dahlgren—to mention only a few names that became conspicuous in the War of Secession—there will be found also in civil and political life men who will become the channels through which the needs of the service will receive expression and ultimately obtain relief. The process is overslow for perfect adequacy, but it exists. It may be asked, Was not the Navy Department constituted for this special purpose? Possibly; but experience has shown that sometimes it is effective, and sometimes it is not. There is in it no provision for a continuous policy. No administrative period of our naval history since 1812 has been more disastrously stagnant and inefficient than that which followed closely the War of Secession, with its extraordinary, and in the main well-directed, administrative energy. The deeds of Farragut, his compeers, and their followers, after exciting a moment's enthusiasm, were powerless to sustain popular interest. Reaction ruled, as after the War of 1812.
To whomsoever due, in the decade immediately preceding the War of Secession there were two notable attempts at regeneration which had a profound influence upon the fortunes of that contest. Of these, one affected the personnel of the navy, the other the material. It had for some time been recognized within the service that, owing partly to easy-going toleration of offenders, partly to the absence of authorized methods for dealing with the disabled, or the merely incompetent, partly also, doubtless, to the effect of general professional stagnation upon those naturally inclined to worthlessness, there had accumulated a very considerable percentage of officers who were useless; or, worse, unreliable. In measure, this was also due to habits of drinking, much more common in all classes of men then than now. Even within the ten years with which I am dealing, an officer not much my senior remarked to me on the great improvement in this respect in his own experience; and my contemporaries will bear me out in saying that since then the advance has been so sustained that the evil now is practically non-existent. But then the compassionate expression, "A first-rate officer when he is not drinking," was ominously frequent; and in the generation before too little attention had been paid to the equally significant remark, that with a fool you know what to count on, but with one who drank you never knew.
But drink was far from the only cause. There were regular examinations, after six years of service, for promotion from the warrant of midshipman to a lieutenant's commission; but, that successfully passed, there was no further review of an officer's qualifications, unless misconduct brought him before a court-martial. Nor was there any provision for removing the physically incompetent. Before I entered the navy I knew one such, who had been bed-ridden for nearly ten years. He had been a midshipman with Farragut under Porter in the old Essex, when captured by the Phoebe and Cherub. A gallant boy, specially named in the despatch, he had such aptitude that at sixteen, as he told me himself, he wore an epaulette on the left shoulder—the uniform of a lieutenant at that time; and a contemporary assured me that in handling a ship he was the smartest officer of the deck he had ever known. But in early middle life disease overtook him, and, though flat on his back, he had been borne on the active list because there was nothing else to do with him. In that plight he was even promoted. There was another who, as a midshipman, had lost a foot in the War of 1812, but had been carried on from grade to grade for forty years, until at the time I speak of he was a captain, then the highest rank in the navy. Possibly, probably, he never saw water bluer than that of the lakes, where he was wounded. The undeserving were not treated with quite the same indulgence. Those familiar with the Navy Register of those days will recall some half-dozen old die-hards, who figured from year to year at the head of the lieutenant's list; continuously "overslaughed," never promoted, but never dismissed. To deal in the same manner with such men as the two veterans first mentioned would have been insulting; the distinction of promotion had to be conceded.
But there were those also who, despite habits or inefficiency, slipped through even formal examination; commanders whose ships were run by their subordinates, lieutenants whose watch on deck kept their captains from sleeping, midshipmen whose unfitness made their retention unpardonable; for at their age to re-begin life was no hardship, much less injustice. Of one such the story ran that his captain, giving him the letter required by regulation, wrote, "Mr. So and So is a very excellent young gentleman, of perfectly correct habits, but nothing will make an officer of him." He answered his questions, however; and the board considered that they could not go beyond that fact. They passed him in the face of the opinion of a superior of tried efficiency who had had his professional conduct under prolonged observation. I never knew this particular man professionally, but the general estimate of the service confirmed his captain's opinion. Twenty or thirty years later, I was myself one of a board called to deal with a precisely similar case. The letter of the captain was explicitly condemnatory and strong; but the president of the board, a man of exemplary rectitude, was vehement even in refusing to act upon it, and his opinion prevailed. Some years afterwards the individual came under my command, and proved to be of so eccentric worthlessness that I thought him on the border-line of insanity. He afterwards disappeared, I do not know how.
Talking of examinations, a comical incident came under my notice immediately after the War of Secession, when there were still employed a large number of those volunteer officers who had honorably and usefully filled up the depleted ranks of the regular service—an accession of strength imperatively needed. There were among them, naturally, inefficients as well as efficients. One had applied for promotion, and a board of three, among them myself, was assembled to examine. Several commonplace questions in seamanship were put to him, of which I now remember only that he had no conception of the difference between a ship moored, and one lying at single anchor—a subject as pertinent to-day as a hundred years ago. After failing to explain this, he expressed his wish not to go further; whereupon one of the board asked why, if ignorant of these simple matters, he had applied for examination. His answer was, "I did not apply for examination, I applied for promotion." Even in this case, when the applicant had left the room, the president of the board, then a somewhat notorious survival of the unfittest, long since departed this life, asked whether we refused to pass him. The third member, himself a volunteer officer, and myself, said we did. "Well," he rejoined, "you know this man may get a chance at you some day." This prudent consideration, however, did not save him.
Such tolerance towards the unfit, the reluctance to strike the individual in the interests of the community, was but a special, and not very flagrant, instance of the sympathy evoked for much worse offenders—murderers, and defrauders—in civil life. In such cases, the average man, except when personally affected, sides unreasonably with the sufferer and against the public; witness the easily signed petitions for pardon which flow in. It can be understood that in a public employment, civil or military, there will usually be reluctance to punish, and especially to take the bread out of the mouths of a man and his family by ejection. Usually only immediate personal interest in efficiency can supply the needed hardness of heart. Speaking after a very extensive and varied inside experience of courts-martial, I can say most positively that their tendency is not towards the excessive severity which I have heard charged against them by an eminent lawyer. On the contrary, the difficulty is to keep the members up to the mark against their natural and professional sympathies. Their superiors in the civil government have more often to rebuke undue leniency. How much more hard when, instead of an evil-doer, one had only to deal with a good-tempered, kindly ignoramus, or one perhaps who drew near the border-line of slipshod adequacy; and especially when to do so was to initiate action, apparently invidious, and probably useless, as in cases I have cited. It was easier for a captain or first lieutenant to nurse such a one along through a cruise, and then dismiss him to his home, thanking God, like Dogberry, that you are rid of a fool, and trusting you may see him no more. But this confidence may be misplaced; even his ghost may return to plague you, or your conscience. Basil Hall tells an interesting story in point. When himself about to pass for lieutenant, in 1808, while in an ante-room awaiting his summons, a candidate came out flushed and perturbed. Hall was called in, and one of the examining captains said to him, "Mr. ——, who has just gone out, could not answer a question which we will put to you." He naturally looked for a stunner, and was surprised at the extremely commonplace problem proposed to him. From the general incident he presumed his predecessor had been rejected, but when the list was published saw his name among the passed. Some years later he met one of the examiners, who in the conversation recalled to him the circumstances. "We hesitated," he said, "whether to let him go through: but we did, and I voted for him. A few weeks later I saw him gazetted second lieutenant of a sloop-of-war, and a twinge of compunction seized me. Not long afterwards I read also the loss of that ship, with all on board. I never have known how it happened, but I cannot rid myself of an uneasy feeling that it may have been in that young man's watch." He added, "Mr. Hall, if ever you are employed as I then was, do not take your duties as lightly as I did."
Sometimes retribution does not assume this ghastly form, but shows the humorous side of her countenance; for she has two faces, like the famous ship that was painted a different color on either side and always tacked at night, that the enemy might imagine two ships off their coast. I recall—many of us recall—a well-known character in the service, "Bobby," who was a synonyme for inefficiency. He is long since in his grave, where reminiscence cannot disturb him; and the Bobby can reveal him only to those who knew him as well and better than I, and not to an unsympathetic public. Well, Bobby after much indulgence had been retired from active service by that convulsive effort at re-establishment known as the Retiring Board of 1854-55, to which I am coming if ever I see daylight through this thicket of recollections that seems to close round me as I proceed, instead of getting clearer. The action of that board was afterwards extensively reviewed, and among the data brought before the reviewers was a letter from a commander, who presumably should have known better, warmly endorsing Bobby. In consequence of this, and perhaps other circumstances, Bobby was restored to an admiring service; but the Department, probably through some officer who appreciated the situation, sent him to his advocate as first lieutenant—that is, as general manager and right-hand man. The joke was somewhat grim, and grimly resented. It fell to me a little later to see the commander on a matter of duty. He received me in his cabin, his feet swathed on a chair, his hands gnarled and knotted with gout or rheumatism, from which he was a great sufferer. Business despatched, we drifted into talk, and got on the subject of Bobby. His face became distorted. "I suppose the Department thinks it has done a very funny thing in sending me him as first lieutenant; but I tell you, Mr. Mahan, every word I wrote was perfectly true. There is nothing about a ship from her hold to her trucks that Bobby don't know; but—" here fury took possession of him, and he vociferated—"put him on deck, handling men, he is the d——dest fool that ever man laid eyes on." How far his sense of injury biassed his judgments as to the acquirements of his protege, I cannot say; but a cruise or two before I had happened to hear from eye-witnesses of Bobby's appearance in public after his restoration as first lieutenant in charge of the deck. On the occasion in question he was to exercise the whole crew at some particular manoeuvre. Taking his stand on the hawse-block, he drew from his pocket a small note-book, cast upon it his eye and announced—doubtless through the trumpet—"Man the fore-royal braces!" Again a pause, and further reference. "Man the main-royal braces!" Again a pause: "Man the mizzen-royal braces—Man all the royal braces." It is quite true, however, that there may be plenty of knowledge with lack of power to apply it professionally—a fact observable in all callings, but one which examination alone will not elicit. I knew such a one who said of himself, "Before I take the trumpet I know what ought to be said and done, but with the trumpet in my hand everything goes away from me." This was doubtless partly stage-fright; but stage-fright does not last where there is real aptitude. This man, of very marked general ability, esteemed and liked by all, finally left the navy; and probably wisely. On the other hand, I remember a very excellent seaman—and officer—telling me that the poorest officer he had ever known tacked ship the best. So men differ.
Thus it happened, through the operation of a variety of causes, that by the early fifties there had accumulated on the lists of the navy, in every grade, a number of men who had been tried in the balance of professional judgment and found distinctly wanting. Not only was the public—the nation—being wronged by the continuance in positions of responsibility of men who could not meet an emergency, or even discharge common duties, but there was the further harm that they were occupying places which, if vacated, could be at once filled by capable men waiting behind them. Fortunately, this had come to constitute a body of individual grievance among the deserving, which counterbalanced the natural sympathy with the individual incompetent. The remedy adopted was drastic enough, although in fact only an application of the principle of selection in a very guarded form. Unhappily, previous neglect to apply selection through a long series of years had now occasioned conditions in which it had to be used on a huge scale, and in the most invidious manner—the selecting out of the unfit. It was therefore easy for cavillers to liken this process to a trial at law, in which unfavorable decision was a condemnation without the accused being heard; and, of course, once having received this coloring, the impression could not be removed, nor the method reconciled to a public having Anglo-Saxon traditions concerning the administration of justice. A board of fifteen was constituted—five captains, five commanders, and five lieutenants. These were then the only grades of commissioned officers, and representation from them all insured, as far as could be, an adequate acquaintance with the entire personnel of the navy. The board sat in secret, reaching its own conclusions by its own methods; deciding who were, and who were not, fit to be carried longer on the active list. Rejections were of three kinds: those wholly removed, and those retired on two different grades of pay, called "Retired," and "Furloughed." The report was accepted by the government and became operative.
This occurred a year or two before I entered the Naval School: and, as I was already expecting to do so, I read with an interest I well recall the lists of person unfavorably affected. Of course, neither then nor afterwards had I knowledge to form an independent opinion upon the merits of the cases; but as far as I could gather in the immediately succeeding years, from different officers, the general verdict was that in very few instances had injustice been done. Where I had the opportunity of verifying the mistakes cited to me, I found instead reason rather to corroborate than to impugn the action of the board; but, of course, in so large a review as it had to undertake, even a jury of fifteen experts can scarcely be expected never to err. In the navy it was a first, and doubtless somewhat crude, attempt to apply the method of selection which every business man or corporation uses in choosing employes; an arbitrary conclusion, based upon personal knowledge and observation, or upon adequate information. But in private affairs such decisions are not regarded as legal judgment, nor rejection as condemnation; and there is no appeal. The private interest of the employer is warrant that he will do the best he can for his business. This presumption does not lie in the case of public affairs, although after the most searching criticism the action of the board of fifteen might probably be quoted to prove that selection for promotion could safely be trusted at all times to similar means. I mean, that such a body would never recommend an unfit man for promotion, and in three cases out of five would choose very near the best man. But no such system can work unless a government have the courage of its findings; for private and public opinion will inevitably constitute itself a court of appeal. In Great Britain, where the principle of selection has never been abandoned, in the application the Admiralty is none the less constrained—browbeaten, I fancy, would hardly be too strong a word—by opinion outside. P. has been promoted, say the service journals; but why was A. passed over, or F., or K.? Choice is difficult, indeed, in peace times; but years sap efficiency, and for the good of the nation it is imperative to get men along while in the vigor of life, which will never be effected by the slow routine in which each second stands heir to the first. P. possibly may not be better than A. or K., but the nation will profit more, and in a matter vital to it, than if P., whose equality may be conceded, has to wait for the whole alphabet to die out of his way. The injustice, if so it be, to the individual must not be allowed to impede the essential prosperity of the community.
In 1854-55, the results of a contrary system had reached proportions at once disheartening and comical. It then required fourteen years after entrance to reach a lieutenant's commission, the lowest of all. That is, coming in as a midshipman at fifteen, not till twenty-nine, after ten to twelve years probably on a sea-going vessel, was a man found fit, by official position, to take charge of a ship at sea, or to command a division of guns. True, the famous Billy Culmer, of the British navy, under a system of selection found himself a midshipman still at fifty-six, and then declined a commission on the ground that he preferred to continue senior midshipman rather than be the junior lieutenant; but the injustice, if so it were, to Billy, and to many others, had put the ships into the hands of captains in the prime of life. Of the historic admirals of that navy, few had failed to reach a captaincy in their twenties. Per contra, I was told the following anecdote by an officer of our service whose name was—and is, for he still lives—a synonyme for personal activity and professional seamanship, but who waited his fourteen years for a lieutenancy. On one occasion the ship in which he returned to Norfolk from a three-years' cruise was ordered from there to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to go out of commission. For some cause almost all the lieutenants had been detached, the cruise being thought ended. It became necessary, therefore, to intrust the charge of the deck to him and other "passed" midshipmen, and great was the shaking of heads among old stagers over the danger that ship was to run. If this were exceptional, it would not be worth quoting, but it was not. A similar routine in the British navy, in a dry-rot period of a hundred years before, had induced a like head-wagging and exchange of views when one of its greatest admirals, Hawke, was first given charge of a squadron; being then already a man of mark, and four years older than Nelson at the Nile. But he was younger than the rule, and so distrusted.
The vacancies made by the wholesale action of 1854 remedied this for a while. The lieutenants who owed their rank to it became such after seven or eight years, or at, twenty-three or four; and this meant really passing out of pupilage into manhood. The change being effected immediately, anticipated the reaction in public opinion and in Congress, which rejected the findings of the board and compelled a review of the whole procedure. Many restorations were made; and, as these swelled the lists beyond the number then authorized by law, there was established a reduced pay for those whose recent promotion made them in excess. For them was adopted, in naval colloquialism, the inelegant but suggestive term "jackass" lieutenants. It should be explained to the outsider, perhaps even many professional readers now may not know, that the word was formerly used for a class of so-called frigates which intervened between the frigate-class proper and the sloop-of-war proper, and like all hybrids, such as the armored cruiser, shared more in the defects than in the virtues of either. It was therefore not a new coinage, and its uncomplimentary suggestion applied rather to the grudging legislation than to the unlucky victims. Of course, promotion was stopped till this block was worked off; but the immediate gain was retained. Before the trouble came on afresh the War of Secession, causing a large number of Southerners to leave the service, introduced a very different problem;—namely, how to find officers enough to meet the expansion of the navy caused by the vast demands of the contest. The men of my time became lieutenants between twenty and twenty-three. My own commission was dated a month before my twenty-first birthday, and with what good further prospects, even under the strict rule of seniority promotion, is evident, for before I was twenty-five I was made lieutenant-commander, corresponding to major in the army. Those were cheerful days in this respect for the men who struck the crest of the wave; but already the symptoms of inevitable reaction to old conditions of stagnancy were observable to those careful to heed.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the benefit of this measure to the nation, through the service, despite the subsequent reactionary legislation. By a single act a large number of officers were advanced from the most subordinate and irresponsible positions to those which called all their faculties into play. "Responsibility," said one of the most experienced admirals the world has known, "is the test of a man's courage"; and where the native fitness exists nothing so educates for responsibility as the having it. The responsibility of the lieutenant of the watch differs little from that of the captain in degree, and less in kind. To early bearing of responsibility Farragut attributed in great part his fearlessness in it, which was well known to the service before his hour of strain. It was much that the government found ready for the extreme demands of the war a number of officers, who, instead of supervising the washing of lower decks and stowing of holds during their best years, had been put betimes in charge of the ship. From there to the captain's berth was but a small step. "Passed midshipman," says one of Cooper's characters, "is a good grade to reach, but a bad one to stop in." From a fate little better than this a large and promising number of young officers were thus rescued for the commands and responsibilities of the War of Secession.
NAVAL CONDITIONS BEFORE THE WAR OF SECESSION
Less far-reaching, because men are greater than ships, but still of immense timeliness as a preparative to the war, was the reconstitution of the material of the navy, practically coincident with the regeneration of the personnel. The causes which led to this are before my time, and beyond my contemporary knowledge. They therefore form no part of my theme; but the result, which is more important than the process, was strictly contemporary with me. It marked a definite parting with sails as the motive reliance of a ship-of-war, but at the same time was characterized by an extreme conservatism, which then was probably judicious, and certainly represented the naval opinion of the day. It must be remembered that the Atlantic was first crossed under steam in 1837, a feat shortly before thought impossible on account of coal consumption, and that the screw-propeller was not generally adopted till several years afterwards. In 1855 the transatlantic liners were still paddlers; but the paddle-wheel shaft was far above the water, and so, in necessary consequence, was much of the machinery which transmitted power from the boilers to the wheel. All battle experience avouched the probability of disabling injury under such exposure; not more certain, but probably more fatal, than that to spars and sails of sailing-ships. Despite this drawback, paddle wheel men-of-war were being built between 1840 and 1850. Our own navy had of these two large and powerful vessels, sisters, the Missouri and the Mississippi. Singularly enough, both met the same end, by fire; the Missouri being burned in the Bay of Gibraltar in 1843, the Mississippi in the river whence she took her name, in the course of Farragut's passage of the batteries at Port Hudson in 1863. This engagement marked the end of the admiral's achievements in the river, throughout which, beginning with the passage of the forts and the capture of New Orleans, the Mississippi had done good work. At the time of her destruction, the present Admiral Dewey was her first lieutenant. Besides these two we had the Susquehanna, "paddle-wheel steam-frigate," which also served manfully through the war, and was in commission after it. It was she that carried General Sherman on his mission to Mexico in 1866. As usual, the principal European navies had built many more of these vessels; that is, had adopted improvements more readily than we did. During my first cruise after graduation, on the coast of Brazil, 1859-61, the British squadron there was composed chiefly of paddlers; the flag-ship Leopard being one. As I remember, there was only one screw-steamer, the sloop-of-war Curacao.
By that time, however, the paddlers were only survivals; but it may be noted, in passing, with reference to the cry of obsolescence so readily raised in our day, that these survivals did yeoman service in the War of Secession. It is possible to be too quick in discarding, as well as too slow in adopting. By 1850 the screw had made good its position; and the difficulty which had impeded the progress of steam in men-of-war disappeared when it became possible to place all machinery below water. There were, however, many improvements still to come, before it could be frankly and fully accepted as the sole motive power. It is not well to let go with one hand till sure of your grip with the other. So in the early days of electric lighting prudent steamship companies kept their oil-lamps trimmed and filled in the brackets alongside of the electric globes. Apart from the problem experienced by the average man—and governments are almost always averages in adjusting his action to novel conditions, the science of steam-enginery was still very backward. Notably, the expenditure of coal was excessive; to produce a given result in miles travelled, or speed attained, much more had to be burned than now, a condition to which contributed also the lack of rigidity in the wooden hulls, which still held their ground. Sails were very expensive articles, as I heard said by an accomplished officer of the olden days; but they were less costly than coal. Steam therefore was accepted at the first only as an accessory, for emergencies. It was too evident for question that in battle a vessel independent of the wind would have an unqualified advantage over one dependent; though an early acquaintance of mine, a sailmaker in the navy, a man of unusual intelligence and tried courage, used to maintain that steam would never prevail. Small steamers, he contended, would accompany sailing fleets, to tow vessels becalmed, or disabled in battle; a most entertaining instance of professional prepossession. What would be his reflections, had he survived till this year of grace, to see only six sailmakers on the active list of the navy, the last one appointed in 1888, and not one of them afloat. Likewise, in breasting the continuous head-winds which mark some ocean districts, or traversing the calms of others, there would be gain; but for the most part sailing, it was thought, was sufficiently expeditious, decidedly cheaper, and more generally reliable; for steamers "broke down." Admiral Baudin; a French veteran of the Napoleonic period, was very sarcastic over the uncertainties of action of the steamers accompanying his sailing frigates, when he attacked Fort San Juan de Ulloa, off Vera Cruz in 1839; and since writing these words I have come across the following quotation, of several years later, from the London Guardian, which is republishing some of its older news under the title "'Tis Sixty Years Since."
"Naval manoeuvres in 1846. The Squadron of Evolution is one of the topics of the present week (June 10, 1846). Its arrival in the Cove of Cork, after a cruise which has tested by every variety of weather the sailing qualities of the vessels, has furnished the world with a few particulars of its doings, and with some materials for speculating on the problems it was sent out to solve. The result, as far as it goes, is certainly unfavorable to the exclusive prevalence of steam agency in naval warfare. Sailing ships, it is seen, can do things which steamers, as at present constructed, cannot accomplish. They can keep the sea when steamers cannot. But the screw-steamer, which is reported to have astonished everybody, is certainly an exception. Perhaps by this contrivance the rapidity and convenience of steam locomotion may be combined with the power and stability of our huge sailing batteries."
Under convictions thus slowly recasting, the first big steam ships-of-war carried merely "auxiliary" engines; were in fact sailing vessels, of the types in use for over a century, into which machinery was introduced to meet occasional emergencies. In some cases, probably in many, ships already built as sailers were lengthened and engined. As late as 1868 we were station-mates with one such, the Rodney, of 90 guns, then the flag-ship of the British China squadron; and we had already met, another, the Princess Royal, at the Cape of Good Hope, homeward bound. She, however, had been built as a steamer. She was a singularly handsome vessel, of her majestic type; and, as she lay close by us, I remember commenting on her appearance to one of my messmates, poor Stewart, who afterwards went down in the Oneida. "Yes," he replied, "she possesses several elements of the sublime." They were certainly imposing creations, with their double and treble tiers of guns, thrusting their black muzzles through the successive ports which, to the number of fifteen to twenty, broke through the two broad white hands that from bow to stern traversed the blackness of their hulls; above which rose spars as tall and broad as ever graced the days of Nelson. To make the illusion of the past as complete as possible, and the dissemblance from the sailing ship as slight, the smoke-stack—or funnel—was telescopic, permitting it to be lowered almost out of sight. For those who can recall these predecessors of the modern battle-ships, the latter can make slight claim to beauty or impressiveness; yet, despite the ugliness of their angular broken sky-line, they have a gracefulness all their own, when moving slowly in still water. I remember a dozen years ago watching the French Mediterranean fleet of six or eight battle-ships leaving the harbor of Villefranche, near Nice. There was some manoeuvring to get their several stations, during which, here and there, a vessel lying quiet waiting her opportunity would glide forward with a dozen slow turns of the screws, not agitating the water beyond a light ripple at the bows. The bay at the moment was quiet as a mill-pond, and it needed little imagination to prompt recognition of the identity of dignified movement with that of a swan making its leisurely way by means equally unseen; no turbulent display of energy, yet suggestive of mysterious power.
Before the War of Secession, and indeed for twenty years after it, the United States never inclined to the maintenance of squadrons, properly so-called. It is true, a dozen fine ships-of-the-line were built during the sail period, but they never sailed together; and the essence of the battle-ship, in all eras, is combined action. Our squadrons, till long after I entered the navy, were simply aggregations of vessels, no two of which were necessarily of the same size or class. When a ship-of-the-line went to sea—which never happened in my time—she went without mates, a palpable paradox; a ship-of-the-line, which to no line belonged. Ours was a navy of single, isolated cruisers; and under that condition we had received a correct tradition that, whatever the nominal class of an American ship-of-war, she should be somewhat stronger than the corresponding vessels built by other nations. Each cruiser, therefore, would bring superior force to any field of battle at all possible to her. This was a perfectly just military conception, to which in great measure we owed our successes of 1812. The same rule does not apply to fleets, which to achieve the like superiority rely upon united action, and upon tactical facility obtained by the homogeneous qualities of the several ships, enabling them to combine greater numbers upon a part of the enemy. Therefore Great Britain, which so long ruled the world by fleets, attached less importance to size in the particular vessel. Class for class, her ships were weaker than those of her enemies, but in fleet action they usually won. At the period of which I am writing, the screw-propeller, having fairly established its position, prompted a reconstruction of the navy, with no change of the principles just mentioned. The cruiser idea dictated the classes of vessels ordered, and the idea of relative size prescribed their dimensions. There were to be six steam-frigates of the largest class, six steam-sloops, and six smaller vessels, a precise title for which I do not know. I myself have usually called them by the French name corvette, which has a recognized place in English marine phraseology, and means a sloop-of-war of the smaller class. A transfer of terms accompanying a change of system is apt to be marked by anomalies.
These eighteen vessels were the nucleus of the fighting force with which the government met the war of 1861. In the frigates and sloops steam was purely auxiliary; they had every spar and sail of the sailing ships to which they corresponded. Four of the larger sloops—the Hartford, Richmond, Brooklyn, and Pensacola—constituted the backbone of Farragut's fleet throughout his operations in the Mississippi. The Lancaster, one of the finest of these five sisters, was already in the Pacific, and there remained throughout the contest; while the San Jacinto, being of different type and size, was employed rather as a cruiser than for the important operations of war. It was she that arrested the Confederate commissioners, Slidell and Mason, on board the British mail-steamer Trent, in 1861. The corvettes for the most part were also employed as cruisers, being at once less effective in battery, for river work, and swifter. They alone of the vessels built in the fifties were engined for speed, as speed went in those days; but their sail power also was ample, though somewhat reduced. One of them, the Iroquois, accompanied Farragut to New Orleans, as did a sister ship to her, the Oneida, which was laid down in 1861, after many Southern Senators and Representatives had left their seats in Congress and the secession movement became ominous of war; when it began to be admitted that perhaps, after all, for sufficient cause, brothers might shed the blood of brothers.
The steam-frigates were of too deep draught to be of much use in the shoal waters, to which the nature of the hostilities and the character of the Southern coast confined naval operations. Being extremely expensive in upkeep, with enormous crews, and not having speed under steam to make them effective chasers, they were of little avail against an enemy who had not, and could not have, any ships at sea heavy enough to compete with them. The Wabash of this class bore the flag of Admiral Dupont at the capture of Port Royal; and after the fight the negroes who had witnessed it on shore reported that when "that checker-sided ship," following the elliptical course prescribed to the squadron for the engagement, came abreast the enemy's works, the gunners, after one experience, took at once to cover. No barbette or merely embrasured battery of that day could stand up against the twenty or more heavy guns carried on each broadside by the steam-frigates, if these could get near enough. At New Orleans, even the less numerous pieces of the sloops beat down opposition so long as they remained in front of Fort St. Philip and close to; but when they passed on, so the first lieutenant of one of them told me, the enemy returned to his guns and hammered them severely. This showed that the fort was not seriously injured nor its armament decisively crippled, but that the personnel was completely dominated by the fire of many heavy guns during the critical period required for the smaller as well as larger vessels to pass. As most of the river work was, of this character, the broadsides of the sloops were determinative, and those of the frigates would have been more so, could they have been brought to the scene; but they could not. Much labor was expended in the attempt to drag the Colorado, sister ship to the Wabash, across the bar of the Mississippi, but fruitlessly.
For the reason named, the screw-frigates built in the fifties had little active share in the Civil War. Were they then, from a national stand-point, uselessly built? Not unless preparation for war is to be rejected, and reliance placed upon extemporized means. To this resort our people have always been inclined to trust unduly, owing to a false or partial reading of history; but to it they were excusably compelled by the extensive demands of the War of Secession, which could scarcely have been anticipated. At the time these frigates were built, they were, by their dimensions and the character of their armaments, much the most formidable ships of their class afloat, or as yet designed. Though correctly styled frigates—having but one covered deck of guns—they were open to the charge, brought against our frigates in 1812 by the British, of being ships-of-the-line in disguise; and being homogeneous in qualities, they would, in acting together, have presented a line of battle extorting very serious consideration from any probable foreign enemy. It was for such purpose they were built; and it was no reproach to their designers that, being intended to meet a probable contingency, they were too big for one which very few men thought likely. At that moment, when the portentous evolution of naval material which my time has witnessed was but just beginning, they were thoroughly up-to-date, abreast and rather ahead of the conclusions as yet reached by contemporary opinion. The best of compliments was paid them by the imitation of other navies; for, when the first one was finished, we sent her abroad on exhibition, much like a hen cackling over its last performance, with the result that we had not long to congratulate ourselves on the newest and best thing. It is this place in a long series of development which gives them their historical interest.
But if the frigates were unfitted to the particular emergency of a civil contest, scarcely to be discerned as imminent in 1855, the advantage of preparation for general service is avouched by the history of the first year of hostilities, even so exceptional as those of 1861 and 1862. Within a year of the first Bull Run, Farragut's squadron had fought its way from the mouth of the Mississippi to Vicksburg. That the extreme position was not held was not the fault of the ships, but of backwardness in other undertakings of the nation. All the naval vessels that subdued New Orleans had been launched and ready before the war, except the Oneida and the gunboats; and to attribute any determinative effect in such operations to the gunboats, with their one heavy gun, is to misunderstand the conditions. Even a year later, at the very important passage of Port Hudson, the fighting work was done by the Hartford, Richmond, Mississippi, and Monongahela; of which only the last named, and least powerful, was built after the war began. It would be difficult to overrate the value, material and moral, of the early successes which led the way to the opening of the great river, due to having the ships and officers ready. So the important advantages obtained by the capture of Port Royal in South Carolina, and of Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina, within the first six months, were the results of readiness, slight and inadequate as that was in reference to anything like a great naval war.
A brief analysis of the composition of the navy at the opening of the War of Secession, will bring out still more vividly how vitally important to the issue were the additions of the decade 1850-60. In March, 1861, when Lincoln was inaugurated, the available ships-of-war at sea, or in the yards, numbered sixty-one. Of these thirty-four were sailing vessels, substantially worthless; although, as the commerce of the world was still chiefly carried on by sailing ships, they could be of some slight service against these attempting to pass a blockade. For the most part, however, they were but scarecrows, if even respected as such. Of the twenty-seven steamers, only six dated from before 1850; the remainder were being built when I entered the Naval Academy in September, 1856. Their construction, with all that it meant, constituted a principal part of the environment into which I was then brought, of which the recasting of the list of officers was the other most important and significant feature. Both were revolutionary in character, and prophetic of further changes quite beyond the foresight of contemporaries. From this point of view, the period in question has the character of an epoch, initiated, made possible, by the invention of the screw-propeller; which, in addition to the better nautical qualities associated with it, permitted the defence of the machinery by submersion, and of the sides of the ship by the application of armor. In this lay the germ of the race between the armor and the gun, involving almost directly the attempt to reach the parts which armor cannot protect, the underwater body, by means of the torpedo. The increases of weight induced by the competition of gun and armor led necessarily to increase of size, which in turn lent itself to increases of speed that have been pushed beyond the strictly necessary, and at all events are neither militarily nor logically involved in the progress made. It has remained to me always a matter of interest and satisfaction that I first knew the navy, was in close personal contact and association with it, in this period of unconscious transition; and that to the fact of its being yet incomplete I have owed the experience of vessels, now wholly extinct, of which it would be no more than truth to say that in all essential details they were familiar to the men of two hundred years ago. Nay, in their predecessors of that date, as transmitted to us by contemporary prints, it is easy to trace the development, in form, of the ships I have known from the mediaeval galley; and this, were the records equally complete, would doubtless find its rudimentary outlines in the triremes of the ancient world. Of this evolution of structure clear evidences remain also in terminology, even now current; survivals which, if the facts were unknown, would provoke curiosity and inquiry as to their origin, as physiologists seek to reconstruct the past of a race from scanty traces still extant.